Bizarre Freedom of Information Act requests

Exorcisms are the subject of one FOI request to the council
Exorcisms are the subject of one FOI request to the council

Bizarre requests based on “far-fetched rumours” are placing an unnecessary strain on St Helens Council, bosses have said.

Information on the number of exorcisms performed in the borough and inquiries on plans to micro-chip children were among the Freedom of Information (FOI) requests fielded by the local authority last year.

The number of FOIs received by the council has increased almost threefold in recent years and while officials have said they are more than happy to deal with genuine requests, the more unusual claims are clogging up the system.

A council spokesman said: “FOI can be a very useful tool for members of the public in understanding the workings of local government. It gives the public a right to access the information produced in the course of the council’s work - and when used properly that information improves public confidence and trust in government and public sector bodies.

“Yet a small minority occasionally use the system for less serious – or downright frivolous – purposes. Fact and fiction can often become blurred too – with some people inspired to follow up issues they may have heard about from less than reliable sources.”

Four years ago around 500 requests were received in comparison with the more than 1,300 submitted last year, council officers said.

The cost of dealing with so many requests has not been calculated although neighbouring Wigan Council announced earlier this year it had cost them £124,875 to deal with 1,110 enquiries.

The request for exorcism information asked for a breakdown on how many times the council had paid for such services and whether it was performed on an adult, child, building or pet. While another asked for clarification on rumoured plans to micro-chip all children in the UK. Council bosses have said a significant amount of the information requested is available on their website and that should be residents’ first port of call.

Local authorities and public bodies are obliged by law to respond to all FOI requests.

Systems and Information Management Officer Andy Paton said: “We’re only too pleased to help those people with genuine queries, but the less serious issues can take up valuable time – and slow down our efforts to provide useful information.”

The council said 25 per cent of the enquiries received by the council related to commercial issues, while just over 12 per cent were from local, regional and national media outlets.